From the TUC

Green networks spreading across the EU

19 Jul 2011, by in Economics

The ETUC is calling for discussions with the EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, on how the workplace and social dialogue can play a part  in European energy efficiency policy. It’s a timely intervention. A new EU study shows unions in Germany, France, Belgium, Romania and the UK leading highly diverse initiatives with employers and other agencies. It says the TUC’s Green Workplaces projects are “positively perceived, with many companies and employers taking part.” Governments should “provide incentives to social partners for by making clear the benefits that can flow to both sides.”

As in the UK, the key to success is building national networks. German unions are developing a network-based approach similar to the UK, but with the benefit of high level support from the Environment Ministry. The Network on Resource Efficiency is an example of an initiative based on social dialogue structures and is part of the Green New Deal in Germany. “The network involves the social partners in the multi-stakeholder network (for the most part successfully) and is therefore seen as a good practice example for introducing and diffusing environmental innovations.”

Works councils play a key role in the initiative since they have in-depth knowledge through practical experience with managerial and production processes, and can therefore suggest new sources of efficiency within the company.

In the German aluminium industry, the trade union IG Metall and the aluminium trade association, GDA , in cooperation with industry, initiated a series of dialogues on increasing resource efficiency in the context of producing, processing, using and recycling aluminum. As with similar green workplace initiatives led by Community in the UK steel industry, the objectives include to encourage innovative approaches to resource efficiency in aluminium by means of a joint dialogue; and to reduce the relocation and employment reduction problems that result from increasing costs. In other words, tackle the threat of carbon leakage head on.

A union-initiated training project, Resource efficiency at the company, set up a working group to deal with the topic of resource efficiency in training. The Cooperation Project on Resource Efficiency for Works Councillors and Employees deals with the need to involve works councils and employees in the resource- and energy-efficient design of work and production processes. About 1,000 participant days have been organised since Network Resource Efficiency was set up. Again, there are striking similarities with the UK’s greenworkplaces initiative:  small group events involve workshops lasting several days, with direct cooperation with companies, following identification of specific training needs in resource efficiency, not only for works councillors and employees, but also for managers.

In France, the construction industry is training employees in energy efficiency in buildings through a national joint employment commission (Commission Paritaire Nationale pour l’Emploi, CPNE). The transfer of sustainability skills was fostered by mixing employees from different trades and encouraging them to learn from the personal experiences of others and by identifying problem situations in order to trigger learning.

In Romania, dealing with the economic crisis has provided opportunities for the social partners to initiate a new period of cooperation on the green economy. Joint projects have covered adapting the energy sector to new technologies; workshops on carbon capture and storage developments; and training professionals in energy efficiency in buildings.

The really positive thing about this study is not just the acknowledgement of the TUC’s efforts, but the range of union-led innovative projects emerging across the EU. The next step, for unions across the EU, is to build an EU network of best TU practices, in all their diversity. See: Industrial relations and sustainability: the role of social partners in the transition towards a green economy, European Foundation for Living & Working Conditions, 2011.